Whether they’re 4 or 14, guests at your child’s birthday party are going to be hungry. Stagger the food over the course of the event, leaving an hour or so in between each course so children have time to digest. Serve drinks and snacks at the beginning of the party. Hold off on dinner until after children have run around, since playing very active games after they eat dinner can lead to upset stomachs.
Instead of serving soda pop, make a bowl of fruit punch by mixing together a few varieties of juice made from 100 percent fruit. Add chunks of fresh or frozen fruit, and freeze more juice into ice cubes using ice-cube trays in the form of stars or silly shapes. Fruit smoothies will also be a hit. Turn smoothie-making into one of the party’s activities by setting out frozen berries, bananas, yogurt and juice so each child can choose her own ingredients. Adults must do the actual blending.
Serving healthy snacks is essential. If children fill up early on unhealthy appetizers, they’ll be too full to eat a healthy meal later on. Include fruits and vegetables in every appetizer you prepare. Serve carrot and celery sticks along with hummus or ranch dressing, or cut whole-wheat pitas into triangles and bake them until they’re crispy. Serve the pita chips with homemade guacamole, salsa or a Southwest-seasoned creamy dressing for dipping. For a sweet snack, drizzle strawberries and chunks of pineapples with melted chocolate. Refrigerate them until the chocolate hardens.
If guests have been snacking for hours, they won’t need a huge meal. If the party is outside during warm weather, grill burgers or create vegetable skewers. Marinate peppers, squash and chicken in creamy balsamic dressing with Italian-style herbs and spices, arrange them on wooden skewers and grill them until the chicken is cooked and the vegetables have appetizing grill marks. In the cold winter months, make lasagna that’s filled with sautéed zucchini and spinach, or let each child create his own miniature pizza using whole-wheat dough, cheese and plenty of chopped veggies.
No child’s birthday party is complete without cake, but serving huge wedges of sugary cake will run counter to your efforts to serve healthy foods. Angel-food cake is a delicious and lighter alternative that kids love. Frost it with lightly sweetened freshly whipped cream instead of super-sweet buttercream frosting and decorate it with berries instead of sprinkles. If your child is flexible about having an actual birthday cake, serve sorbet or strawberry shortcake instead. Make the biscuits small and load up each dish with strawberries. Finish the bowls with a dollop of whipped cream and every child will beg for seconds.